Category Archives: Latest News

Devastation without Representation in Puerto Rico

In an opinion piece for the LA Times, published on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, Professor Sam Erman writes of devastation without representation in Puerto Rico. You can read the piece here. Learn more about Erman’s work by viewing his video interviews and reading about his forthcoming book with the series, Almost Citizens: Puerto Rico, the U.S. Constitution, and Empire (Cambridge University Press, October 2018).

Erman Discusses Puerto Rico on the Podcast BackStory

Sam Erman, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Southern California, appeared in a recent episode of the podcast BackStory, titled “After Hurricane Maria: The History of Puerto Rico and the United States.” The episode, which aired September 7, 2018, examines the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico across history and includes Erman’s discussion of Puerto Rico’s constitutional status. You can read more about Erman’s book, Almost Citizens: Puerto Rico, the U.S. Constitution, and Empire (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, October 2018), on the SLH website.

Jones on Protesting NFL Players

Martha S. Jones, professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and SLH author, recently penned an op-ed in the Washington Post titled “Trump said protesting NFL players ‘shouldn’t be in this country.’ We should take him seriously.” In the piece, Professor Jones responds to President Trump’s remarks regarding protesting NFL players and considers the  historical context for his actions.  Jones is the author of Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, Summer 2018). You can read the full op-ed here, on the Washington Post website.

Call for Applications: Johnson Program for First Book Authors

The American Society for Legal History (ASLH) announces a new program designed to provide advice and support to scholars working toward the publication of first books in legal history, broadly defined. In conversation with peers and with the advice of senior scholars, participants will develop and revise book proposals and sample chapters, and they will meet with guest editors to learn about approaching and working with publishers.

Applications for Johnson Fellows are invited from early career, pre-tenure scholars, publishing in English, who have completed PhDs or JDs and are working on first books in legal history. Scholars with expertise in all chronological periods and geographical fields are encouraged to apply, as are students who may not (yet) identify as legal historians.

The Johnson Program will begin in November, 2018 at the ASLH Annual Meeting in Houston and will include two in-person workshops and one remote consultation on work-in-progress:

  • November 8, 2018: One-day workshop at the ASLH Annual Meeting (Houston, TX), introduction to book publishing and prospectus writing;
  • Spring 2019 (date TBD): Remote meeting, peer and senior scholar feedback on draft prospectus; and
  • Summer 2019 (July 26-27): Two-day workshop on draft chapters, University of Pennsylvania Law School.

The 2018-19 Johnson Program will be led by Professor Reuel Schiller, with the participation of other senior legal historians. Participants must commit to participation in all three meetings. The program will include up to 5 Fellows and will provide substantial funding for travel and accommodation.

Application Guidelines:

The application deadline is June 30, 2018. Applicants should submit (as a single document, Times New Roman, 12 point font):

  • cover letter (single spaced, not exceeding two pages) describing the applicant’s professional trajectory to date and reasons for interest in the Johnson Program;
  • curriculum vitae (including contact information);
  • project abstract (single spaced; up to 100 words)
  • project description (single spaced; not exceeding 750 words) organized with the following sections and headings: Introduction, Significance, Design and Methodology, Chapter Outline, Plans for Revision, and Progress to Date.
  • two letters of recommendation from faculty members, at least one of whom should have been a major advisor of the project (sent separately from the other materials).

All materials should be submitted to Barbara Welke (welke004@umn.edu), Chair, University of Minnesota by June 30, 2018.

The 2018 Johnson Program for First Book Authors Committee:

Barbara Young Welke, Chair, University of Minnesota, welke004@umn.edu
Lauren Benton, Vanderbilt University, lauren.benton@vanderbilt.edu
Sam Erman, USC Gould School of Law, serman@law.usc.edu
Kurt Graham, NARA, kurt.graham@nara.gov

Reuel Schiller, UC Hastings College of Law, schiller@uchastings.edu
Rayman Solomon, University of Rutgers-Camden School of Law, raysol@camlaw.rutgers.edu
Matthew Sommer, Stanford University, msommer@stanford.edu

Notification:

Applicants will be notified by July 30, 2018. Please direct any questions to Barbara Welke.

Martha Jones on Birthright Citizens

In this video, Professor Martha Jones of the University of Michigan discusses her book Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, Summer 2018). The video, courtesy of Michigan Law, provides an overview of the forthcoming book and its implications for thinking about citizenship in America. An edited transcription follows.

 

I’m finishing a book called Birthright Citizens, which is a look at race and citizenship in a somewhat unexplored period. That is, the period before the U.S. Civil War; the period before the amendment of the Constitution, with the 14th Amendment providing birthright citizenship for the first time in the United States. My case study is three African Americans, former slaves, and their descendants. All with a mind toward understanding how, as a nation, we grapple with people who occupy this in-between status–neither slaves, nor fully free citizens. How, in law, do we regard those people? Most often that story is told through a somewhat notorious US Supreme Court case called Dread Scott vs. Sandford, in which the court, through Roger Taney, declaims that no black person can be a citizen of the United States. It turns out that, while Taney was quite sure about his ideas, he really was just one volley in what was an extended debate about race and citizenship before the Civil War.

So, for me, the story begins in the eighteen-twenties with three African American activists themselves, who–through local courthouses, high court arguments, legislatures, and political conventions–again and again make the argument that they are citizens of the United States. Again and again, they make the argument that by virtue of birthright, military service, and their contributions to the economic prosperity of the nation, they should be citizens.

It’s an important chapter in part because it tells a new version of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was not merely a creature of the U.S. Senate, but actually came out of the activism of free African Americans themselves. 

Binyamin Blum Reviews Likhovski for Jotwell

In January 2018, Binyamin Blum reviewed Assaf Likhovski’s Tax Law and Social Norms in Mandatory Palestine and Israel (Cambridge University Press, 2017) for Jotwell. The review can be found on the Jotwell website and is also reproduced below. You can learn more about the book by watching the series of short clips Professor Likhovski recorded for SLH concerning his project. 

On Fiscal History: A Cultural History of Tax Law
Binyamin Blum

Accused by Hillary Clinton of paying no income tax for years, in one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 presidential debates, Donald Trump retorted, “That makes me smart.” Days later, Rudolph Giuliani took Trump’s comment a step further, stating that tax avoidance demonstrated the candidate’s “absolute genius.”During the campaign Trump flouted a forty-year tradition among presidential candidates by refusing to release his tax returns. Pundits speculated that all this might affect Trump’s electability. But as we found out on November 8, 2016, voters did not seem to penalize him for this (or other) behavior.

This election episode epitomizes the declining relationship among tax, civic identity, and citizenship,1 which are at the center of Assaf Likhovski’s Tax Law and Social Norms in Mandatory Palestine and Israel. Likhovski explores the rise and rapid fall of what he calls the “intimate fiscal state”: a state seeking to ensure its citizens’ tax compliance through a close, direct, and almost family-like relationship, relying more on social norms than legal sanctions.

Spanning most of the twentieth century, Likhovski’s book is divided into three parts. Part I analyzes the transition from arbitrary and corrupt Ottoman taxation, extracted primarily by tax farmers (for-profit non-state intermediaries responsible for tax assessment and collection), towards a more rational taxation system, levied directly by a centralized Ottoman and later British state. With more accurate and detailed information about their subjects, these bureaucratic states were able to assess and levy taxes more equitably and efficiently. Part II, “The Ascendancy of Social Norms,” explores the final years of the British Mandate and the first years of Israeli statehood, an era when reliance on community norms to encourage compliance thrived. Drawing on the tradition of community taxes in the Jewish Diaspora and on Zionist civic republican ideology, Palestine’s Jewish inhabitants began introducing an array of self-imposed, “voluntary compulsory” taxes to support various causes: self-defense, unemployment benefits, public works, and the rescue of European Jewry, to name a few.

Though some organizations such as the Kartell Jüdischer Verbindungen, an organization of German-Zionist academics in Palestine, sought to impose these taxes through legal and quasi-legal mechanisms, taxes were enforced primarily through social networks. (P. 122.) The Jewish Agency encouraged payment through various media, such as literature and art propaganda, but without any formal backing (and despite certain reservations) of state officials and state law. Even resort to shaming through mechanisms such as “evader lists” was rare. Still, these taxes generated more than double the revenue collected by the colonial state, even after the British introduced an income tax in 1941. This civic republican ethos carried into the first decades of Israeli statehood. By creating a strong sense of community, the new “intimate fiscal state” successfully instilled a sense of duty, loyalty, and trust. It conveyed to its citizens the importance of paying for the establishment and maintenance of “their” state.

But this era was short-lived, lasting only two decades: As Likhovski explains in Part III, a convergence of related social, political, and cultural factors, such as an abating security threat, greater social heterogeneity, and (perhaps most importantly) the waning of collectivism, led to the decline of social norms concerning tax compliance. This social transformation contributed to the rising influence of tax professionals, namely, accountants and lawyers. Likhovski carefully and skillfully analyzes the interplay between their increasing involvement and the transformation of tax norms, which reflected—and were designed to counter—their involvement.

Likhovski argues that the connection between taxes and citizenship became even more tenuous as these experts became more deeply involved as intermediaries and policy designers, and as they began to reorient their duties from the state towards their clients—the individual tax-payers. Initially viewing their charge as ensuring that “tax laws be implemented justly and equally,” (P. 233) accountants fulfilled an educational role and enjoyed the trust of the state and taxpayer alike. But by the 1960s their statist rhetoric gave way to a more client-friendly approach. They also began openly criticizing tax policy, advocating tax simplification to eliminate state bureaucracy and to secure the interests of individuals, investors, and corporations. The legal profession followed a similar pattern: lawyers, who initially fit rather uncomfortably within the collectivist, industrial Zionist ethos, managed to establish their position in the Israeli collective as promoters of respect for the law and for the state. (P. 240.) Yet by the late 1960s, they too increasingly began perceiving their duty as primarily shielding clients from tax responsibilities rather than enforcing the state’s interests. Finally, during this same period, Israeli economists reexamined their fundamental assumptions regarding what may be called the “Homo Israelicus.” Initially convinced of Zionist exceptionalism, which placed the collective ahead of individual interest, by the 1970s Israeli economists were designing tax policy in a more scientific, universalist fashion. They reoriented their perspective from statist to individualist. This growing involvement of experts transformed tax legal norms in Israel, which became more flexible and intrusive to counter non-compliance and overly creative professional “tax planning.”

Some readers might criticize the disproportionate attention the book pays to Palestine and Israel’s Jewish community. Though Arab subjects and citizens do receive some consideration, the book focuses primarily on the Jewish community (and on Zionist Jews in particular) even though Palestine’s Arab population was significantly larger during most of the period analyzed. Still, given Likhovski’s inquiry, his selection is judicious. Though one may glean useful insights regarding the connection between tax and civic identity by thoroughly examining “outsider” groups, it is through the transformation in the social norms of insiders that this social phenomenon—namely, the weakening of the relationship between tax and civic identity—is best explored. It is within this group that one may observe the greatest ebb and flow in social norms concerning tax compliance, from voluntary to compliant to cautiously avoidant.

Though Likhovski’s account is, as he acknowledges, primarily top-down, he draws on a broad array of sources to depict a vivid social and cultural history of taxation. He relies not only on judicial decisions and legislative histories but also on propaganda films, posters, and literature produced by Israeli taxation authorities and Israel’s Tax Museum, and on children’s books and satire. The result is a highly entertaining read. Likhovski once again demonstrates his outstanding aptitude for storytelling that combines a keen eye for unusual details with broad theoretical insights. Though Likhovski’s book focuses on Palestine/Israel, it offers broader insights concerning fiscal citizenship and how tax evasion has transformed over time from vice to virtue. As one visitor to Israel’s Tax Museum noted: “I do not believe that one [could] find such a subject, that is really so dry, exciting, but I did.” (P. 175.) I think most readers will agree.

  1. Or what Lawrence Zelenak has termed “fiscal citizenship.” See Lawrence Zelenak, Learning to Love Form 1040: Two Cheers for the Return-Based Mass Income Tax (2013). []

Binyamin Blum, On Fiscal Citizenship: A Cultural History of Tax Law, JOTWELL (January 11, 2018) (reviewing Assaf Likhovski, Tax Law and Social Norms in Mandatory Palestine and Israel (2017)), https://legalhist.jotwell.com/fiscal-citizenship-cultural-history-tax-law/.

Nicoletti on the Treason Prosecution of Jefferson Davis

Cynthia Nicoletti, Professor of Law and History at the University of Virginia, recently sat down to discuss her latest book, Secession on Trial: The Treason Prosecution of Jefferson Davis (Cambridge University Press, 2017). In the clip below, she describes the fraught decision whether or not to prosecute Davis for treason, and the broader constitutional implications of the eventual decision. A lightly edited transcript follows.

I am Cynthia Nicoletti. I am a Professor of Law and a Professor of History at the University of Virginia. My new book is Secession on Trial: the Treason Prosecution of Jefferson Davis. One of the things that I argue in this book is that Davis’ treason trial is going to implicate the biggest constitutional question of the Civil War, which is the constitutionality of secession. One of the reasons that he’s not tried—the primary reason that he is not tried—is that the government is quite worried about the prospect of Davis’ acquittal (or, at least, their failure to convict him). They’re worried that Davis’ acquittal might provide a backdoor vindication of the right of secession, which is precisely what they are not hoping for.

There are two things that everybody knows about the legal history of the Civil War: everybody knows that the Civil War settled the question of secession’s constitutionality in favor of the permanency of the union. And everybody knows that the Civil War ended slavery. So, what the book really does, is it argues against– or complicates–one of the basic things that we know about the legal history of the Civil War. What I’m trying to show in the book is how fraught this question of the war settling the constitutionality of secession in the Union’s favor really was.

It was very important to me in writing this book that I treated this question as an open question, basically because I think that there wasn’t a clear answer as to whether or not the Constitution allowed secession. I want to bring the reader back into this time period where there hadn’t been 150 years where everybody clearly understood that secession was unconstitutional. What I’ve heard in general is that if only we had prosecuted Robert E. Lee and other Confederates for treason in the aftermath of the war, we wouldn’t be dealing with the specter of confederate statues and celebratory commemoration of Confederates. One thing that I hope that this book does, is that it might push against the easiness of such a narrative, because one of the things that the book talks about is how difficult it was to get treason convictions against Confederates.

 

Note: this video comes courtesy of UVA Law Communications. Any media relations inquiries can be sent to comm@law.virginia.edu.

Reviews Roll In For McKinley’s Fractional Freedoms

Professor Michelle McKinley’s recent publication with Studies in Legal History, Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima, 1600-1700 (Cambridge University Press, 2016) continues to garner favorable reviews:

You can read Susan Hogue Negrete’s October 2017 review of Fractional Freedoms in H-LatAm here.

Lea VanderVelde’s November 2017 review of Fractional Freedoms in Law and History Review Volume 35, Issue 4 is available here.

H-Law published Lyman Johnson’s review of Fractional Freedoms in December 2017. You can read that review here.